Stopping the mother-to-child transmission of Chagas disease is the key to controlling the disease

Monday, March 12, 2018


Barcelona, 8 March 2018. Every year, 8,000 are born across the world with the Trypanosoma cruzi infection, the parasite that causes Chagas disease. Of those babies, at least 20% will be diagnosed early and will receive treatment. According to experts gathered today at the 14th Workshop on Chagas Disease, organised by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), a centre supported by the “la Caixa” Banking Foundation, in partnership with the Mundo Sano Foundation, congenital transmission (from mother to child) is the mode of transmission that generates the highest number of new acute cases and, consequently, the key to controlling the disease, both within and outside Latin America.

The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) puts the number of people living with Chagas disease across the world at 6 million. Of them,  1.12 million are women of childbearing age, representing a risk of further infections, as an affected mother can transmit the disease to her child during pregnancy or birth (an estimated transmission risk of between 3% and 5%).

According to the experts gathered at the Workshop, treating women with benznidazole prior to pregnancy works as a preventive measure to reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission. Sergio Sosa-Estani, from the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi), has presented the findings of a multi-centre study that shows that not treating young women suffering from Chagas disease prior to pregnancy leads to a risk 25 times higher of the parasite being transmitted to the newly-born child. At the same time, the treatment also reduces the mortality and morbidity risks that the infection can cause in these women, thus serving as a second prevention mechanism.

“The recommendation to treat young women of childbearing age would have a significant impact on health, both by preventing new cases due to congenital transmission and by reducing the risks for women suffering from chronic Chagas disease”, remarks Joaquim Gascón, Director of the ISGlobal Chagas Initiative and Head of the International Health Department at Hospital Clínic in Barcelona. “Following the success of the control measures in blood banks and the positive effects of the vector-borne transmission programmes, congenital transmission is the challenge that we still have to face in the immediate future”.

Marcelo Abril, Executive Director of Mundo Sano noted that “In 2018, the Mundo Sano Foundation's priority, together with the PAHO, is to support the objectives of Latin American countries to control the vertical transmission of Chagas disease. Therefore, we have recently signed a framework agreement with the PAHO to concentrate our efforts on implementing the PAHO's EMTCT-Plus initiative, which is targeting the elimination of the mother-to-child transmission of four diseases by 2020: HIV, syphilis, hepatitis B and Chagas disease. This strategy is based on various actions and measures aimed at women before and during pregnancy, as well as post-partum women and their newly-born children.”

“In recent years, the efforts of governments and various actors, coordinated with the PAHO, have had good results, especially in terms of vector control, universal screening in blood donations, and controlling congenital transmission, with Chagas disease included within the strategy for controlling priority diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. But there is still a long way to go to achieve more and better means of controlling all modes of transmission, and to increase access to diagnosis and treatment in general”, noted the Global Chagas Disease Coalition.

About Chagas Disease

Chagas disease is a infectious tropical disease, generally chronic, caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, which is transmitted to animals and people by vector insects that are mainly found in rural areas in Latin America, where the disease is endemic. According to figures from the World Health Organisation, due to mass migration, this disease now poses new challenges for health systems in non-endemic countries such as Spain.

About ISGlobal

The Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) is the result of an innovative partnership between the "la Caixa” Social Fund and academic and governmental institutions to contribute to the efforts of the international community to address global health challenges. ISGlobal has established a research and healthcare-based hub of excellence, borne out of hospital (Hospital Clínic and Parc de Salut MAR) and academic (University of Barcelona and Pompeu Fabra University) institutions. Its working model is based on transferring the knowledge generated by science through its Training and Analysis and Global Development departments. ISGlobal is a member of the Catalonian Regional Government's CERCA programme.

About Mundo Sano

The Mundo Sano Foundation has been working with institutions from the public and private sectors for 25 years to improve access to healthcare for populations exposed to preventable diseases. Its activities combine scientific research and working with the affected communities to reduce the impact of neglected diseases (NTDs). In relation to Chagas Disease, through the development of community health and intervention strategies, it implements programmes to prevent both vector-borne and mother-to-child transmission. The Mundo Sano Foundation has signed agreements with the PAHO and WHO to combine their efforts against Chagas disease, working on programmes to reduce vertical transmission in endemic countries in Latin America and in non-endemic countries, and to provide access to diagnosis and treatment for the affected populations.